No water cannons, military helicopters or riot police were in evidence, but at noon today on the Scarth Street Mall a group of protesters demonstrated against the Harper government’s undermining of an important initiative at the G8 summit in Toronto related to maternal health.

Alone among the G8 leaders, Stephen Harper has indicated that any foreign aid that Canada provides to improve maternal health in Africa and other parts of the Developing World will specifically exclude funding for abortion services. According to protest organizers, 220,000 women in impoverished Third World countries die each year from botched abortions that are carried out in unsafe medical circumstances.

Denying funding for safe abortion services won’t stop women from having abortions, organizers say. Instead, it would just force even more women who are coping with an unplanned pregancy to put their lives in jeopardy by seeking out an unsafe service provider — in direct contravention of the supposed goal of the maternal health initiative.

The Harper Tories have even cut funding to International Planned Parenthood, a leading advocate for the sexual and reproductive health of women in the Developing World. Inevitably, this will result in a decline in the availability of contraception and other family planning services, leading to more unplanned pregnancies, while simultaneously exposing women to greater risk of infection from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

More than a few people say this is just more evidence of the slow rolling out of an American-style funadmentalist Christian/Conservative agenda.

Unless the other G8 leaders can persuade Canada to change its mind, organizers charged, Stephen Harper’s claim to be concerned about maternal health in the Developing World must be condemned as a complete and utter sham.

We’ll have more on the protest, and the G8 maternal health initiative, in our July 2 print edition.